The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
This review is almost unnecessary. Anyone who liked the first two films of the Creature trilogy will probably watch this move at some point just to see it, despite what is said about it. Anyone who did not like the second or, somehow, the first installment will likely never consider watching this one, which I unfortunately cannot recommend viewing. The problem with Revenge of the Creature, the first sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, was that it didn’t do anything new, even though it was pretty fun. The problem with this one is that it tries too hard. This film overtly extracts a symbolism from the creature and spends an hour and eighteen minutes plastering it to the screen, pleading, “Understand me!” This is unfortunate because the story itself is actually pretty interesting, and the creature even manages to become frightening once again. It’s too bad the writers couldn’t just let the events speak for themselves.
To quickly summarize the plots of the first two films: scientists capture the creature; he escapes; we capture him again; he escapes again. So now it’s back to the swamp. The creature is captured again — but his entire outer layer of skin is burned off in the process. After removing the gauze from the creature’s strapped-down body, the scientists discover another complete layer of skin that was apparently just beneath the surface of the original all along. This new skin is more suitable for a land animal, which is what the creature now becomes (as the title suggests). I won’t spoil anything else, but the rest of this movie basically follows the same format as the first two.
This film focuses strongly on theme — too strongly. The creature is going through a drastic change, and that change is paralleled to humankind and the direction we are headed. The film is so theme-heavy, so self-conscious, that it becomes absurd. The movie bends and distorts itself in order to convey its moral point, and therefore makes no real point at all while simultaneously limiting anything else we could have taken from it. The dialogue suffers the most from this forced direction, becoming more unnatural than any man-fish could ever be. Scientists blurt obvious scientific statements for no reason other than to lead the conversation to a certain point, and spout moral speeches which include phrases like “… [W]e all stand between the jungle and the stars, at a crossroads” and end dramatically with “Well, goodnight gentlemen.” In the meantime, the creature is merely strapped to a bed behind a bolt-locked door. It is moments such as these that ruin the film.
I would say that it is also a shame that we get to see the creature in its original form for only one scene, but actually it is not. The studio took a risk by changing the creature so drastically, and it is one element of the film that really works. When we first see this new version of the creature, the scientists unwrap the gauze from its face, and it slowly turns its head, merely looking them in the eyes. More than anything, it is a look of confusion, but then again, you never truly know what it might be thinking. The creature has always been its scariest when simply gazing, and the strategy is used well once again. It is also interesting to see how the creature adapts to its new way of life and how it responds to more human events.
That’s really about all there is to this film, except for the subplot of the decaying marriage, which has little importance to the rest of the story and was probably thrown in, along with the inflated dialogue (it’s awkward and repetitious), for no other reason than to fill a silver screen runtime. Even combined with the film’s slow pace, these fillers don’t quite add up to eighty minutes. The makers must have been doing everything they could to squeeze time out of the plot, and it shows.
Sadly, the Gill Man (should we now call it the Lung Fish?) itself is the only good thing about this film. And don’t get me wrong; the creature truly is still great, but it now walks among scientists babbling ridiculously. If you really loved the first two installments of the trilogy, you will probably get a few kicks out of this one, but that’s it. More than anything, it feels like a melodramatic goodbye, a painful attempt by the trilogy to validate itself to those who have already accepted it. It is unnecessary on almost every level.